ECU psychologists receive $3.8 million to research, improve student mental health


GREENVILLE, N.C. — Helping to prevent and address emotional and behavioral problems in elementary schoolchildren is the long-term goal of a nearly $3.8 million federal grant awarded to researchers at East Carolina University.

ECU associate professors of psychology Dr. Brandon Schultz, Dr. Christy Walcott, and Dr. Alexander Schoemann have received a four-year grant from the Institute for Education Sciences — the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education. The team will conduct a randomized controlled trial of a school-community partnership focused on improving mental health services in elementary schools known as the Interconnected Systems Framework (ISF).

“Schools have long been tasked with teaching students who have underlying emotional and behavioral issues,” said Walcott, co-investigator and psychology graduate program director. “Although schools are attempting various programs to address behavior and mental health, the outcomes for students with emotional and behavioral problems continue to be disheartening. School services tend to be fragmented and more reactionary than preventative.

“This grant focuses on building effective interdisciplinary teams, improving decision-making, and increasing implementation of evidence-based practices, which is really exciting and should benefit our schools and the larger community. Ultimately, we hope to improve school team functioning and increase student access to the most effective behavioral and mental health supports available,” Walcott said.

The team, led by Schultz, will test how well the ISF improves the quality of mental health services within Pitt County Schools and the Rock Hill Schools district in South Carolina.

“Pitt County Schools has made great strides in recent years toward implementing best practices,” said Schultz. “This project will augment those efforts and potentially provide an innovative, next-generation model for other school districts to emulate.”

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